The AACP Newsletter
Asian American Curriculum Project, Inc. - More than a Bookstore
Since 1970 August/September 2010
Editor's Notes
Event Schedule
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An Interview With
Historians Erika Lee and Judy Yung

An Immigrant in an American Public School

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Video of Judy Yung
doing a pre-book-release presentation of "Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America"
An Interview With
Historians Erika Lee and Judy Yung
After the Release of Their Most Recent Book
Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America

Interviewed by Emily Lin with assistance from Leonard D. Chan

Erika Lee is an associate professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Minnesota and Judy Yung is a professor emerita of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Their most recent co-written book, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, has just been released and we were able to get them to answer a few questions during a break on their long book tour.

Go to the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation website for a list of their tour stops.

Erika Lee - EL
Judy Yung - JY

What inspired you to write Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America? Do you have any family background that encouraged you to write this book?
EL: I am the granddaughter of immigrants who came through both Angel Island and Ellis Island. This personal connection has made me committed to telling the Angel Island story to a broader audience. But as an immigration historian, I also recognize that Angel Island is one of the most important sites where America's immigration history was made.

JY: My father was detained on Angel Island for two months in 1921 and refused to talk about it until fifty years later when I began working with Him Mark Lai and Genny Lim on my first book, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910 to 1940. Since the publication of that book in 1980, many scholars, community activists, and preservationists have called attention to the greater diversity of immigrants on Angel Island. So when the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation expressed interest in a centennial book that would provide a comprehensive history of the many immigrant groups that passed through Angel Island, I felt the time was right for me to revisit the subject and write a new multicultural history of Angel Island as a site of conscience and reconciliation for all Americans.

What were some of the difficulties you both faced while working on this book?
EL: Until recently, the literature on Angel Island has centered almost exclusively on the Chinese immigrant experience. This has made sense in many ways. As the main port of entry for Chinese immigrants applying for admission into the United States, the Angel Island Immigration Station was largely built to fulfill the country's need to enforce the Chinese exclusion laws.

As important as the Chinese immigrant experience on Angel Island is, there are many more immigrant stories that need to be recovered and preserved. The Angel Island Immigration Station was a global crossroads. The challenge for us was finding the immigration histories of all of these other groups.

JY: Because we wanted to include and compare the experiences of the various immigrant groups on Angel Island, of which little had been written and few immigrants were still alive to be interviewed, we had difficulties finding sources, dealing with multilingual research materials, and learning about the immigration history of people who had come to Angel Island from eighty countries around the world.

The research for this book was monumental and we were fortunate to have the help of many research assistants, volunteers, and families who had a personal connection to Angel Island (see the acknowledgements in our book). Equally difficult was sharing the analysis and writing of the book. Somehow, between the two of us, we found a way to split up the work by chapters, to thread the larger themes throughout the book (inclusion and exclusion; race, class, and gender discrimination; America's complicated relationship to immigration; and the real impact of U.S. immigration policies on the lives of immigrants at Angel Island and beyond) and to write in a compatible narrative style.

Being historians that have already done prior research on Angel Island, what were some of the most interesting things that you learned in doing your research this time?
We interviewed Angel Island immigrants and their families. We combed through newspapers, letters, and published accounts. We searched through thousands of immigration files at the National Archives in San Bruno, CA, which holds a treasure trove of immigration documents, statistics, correspondence, and 70,000 case files of immigrants who were detained on Angel Island.

These historical records told us that many immigrants were admitted, but some were turned back or detained for months to await decisions on their legal appeals. Still others were arrested and deported after being admitted into the country.

What struck us most in all of our research was the diversity of immigrant experiences on Angel Island. Half a million people came through the immigration station, but their experiences were so different. That was because until 1965, U.S. immigration policies treated individuals differently according to their race, class, gender, and nationality. Immigration laws targeted some groups (Asians, poor, anarchists, contract laborers, criminals, and illiterates) for exclusion and others for restriction (Southern and Eastern Europeans) while others were treated as privileged classes (the wealthy, Northern and Western Europeans). We found that men and women were treated differently, as were people of different classes, but race was the most important factor shaping different immigration laws and immigrant experiences on the island.

We also discovered that immigrants also reacted to their detentions on Angel Island in different ways. The Chinese wrote poetry to express their anger and frustrations. They also hired lawyers who were quite successful in appealing their cases. Korean, Russian, and Jewish refugees relied upon a network of religious and ethnic organizations for assistance and support. The Japanese depended on their home government to protest any unfair treatment. Because South Asians lacked these resources, they had the highest rejection and deportation rate of all immigrant groups.

What do you hope people will get from reading your book?
Angel Island complicates and challenges the celebratory history of American immigration that focuses only on European immigrants coming through Ellis Island and achieving the American Dream.

Angel Island was certainly a gateway into America, and Angel Island immigrants helped reinforce the ideal that the United States is a "nation of immigrants," a mighty nation built by immigrants. But the poems carved into the barrack walls of Angel Island and former detainees' stories of unjust treatment at the immigration station force us to also confront America's history of immigration restriction and discriminatory immigration laws.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Angel Island Immigration Station, we need to remember the lessons and legacy of its multiracial history of inclusion and exclusion. Discriminatory and unfair immigration laws have harsh and deep repercussions on the lives of people. Conversely, fair immigration policies that uphold our values as a nation of immigrants have often led to beneficial gains for the entire society.

What are the differences and similarities facing immigrants that came through Angel Island and those today?
Angel Island was important in its own time, and it remains vitally important today, when debates over immigration and race continue to divide the country. Immigrant detention is the fastest form of incarceration in the country. In 2008 alone, 407,000 immigrants - mostly U.S. residents - were detained by the U.S. government under deplorable conditions, with incarceration periods that ranged from 37 days to 10 months. Compare this to the 300,000 immigrants who were detained at Angel Island in its entire thirty-year history, with an average detention period of two to three weeks for the Chinese, and we know that the treatment of immigrants have gotten worse rather than better.

What do you think of the recent immigration policies being discussed?
Last April, Arizona passed the toughest immigration law in decades, authorizing local police to arrest and detain suspected "illegal immigrants" and requiring aliens to carry immigration documents at all times. Some Republican Senators are even proposing that the U.S. Constitution be changed to deny birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants. Americans are generally in an anti-immigrant mood. We've seen this before. Anti-immigrant sentiment often flares up during times of economic recession.

Both political parties agree that the current immigration system is broken. But they cannot agree on how to fix it. Efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform (secure borders, reform visas system, legalize undocumented immigrants) failed under President Bush in 2007. In the absence of federal legislation, state legislatures stepped in, adopting 206 anti-immigrant laws in 2008 alone.

President Obama has pledged to tackle immigration reform this year, and his ideas are sound. In his major speech on immigration in July, he said, "Our task then is to make our national laws actually work - to shape a system that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants." Immigration reform needs to happen, but the President has a tough road ahead of him.

Why do you care so much about the issue of immigration and why should all Americans care?
We have always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants, a nation that welcomes "the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free." And from these huddled masses have come hard-working and talented immigrants who have helped to make America what it is today.

As we try to show through our book, Angel Island represents both the best and worst of American immigration history. It is the story of men, women, and children who crossed the Pacific Ocean and traveled north from South America to establish new lives in the United States. It is also the story of harsh and discriminatory immigration laws and of immigrant perseverance. And it is a story of a place that became a gateway to America, forever changing the lives of immigrants and America itself.

What is your next book project?
EL: I am working on a sweeping transnational history of Asians in the Americas. It is a fascinating history that begins with the Manila galleon trade that brought Chinese and Filipinos to New Spain in the sixteenth century and follows the migrations of Chinese and South Asian coolies to the Caribbean, and Asian laborers, merchants, and families to North and South America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

JY: I will be turning my attention to finishing Him Mark Lai's autobiography with Ruthanne Lum McCunn and Russell Leong.

Up Coming Events

Here are some events that AACP will soon be attending.
Events that AACP will be Attending or Hosting
Sept. 19
Chinatown Mall Culture Fair Historic Chinatown Mall
Sacramento, CA
Sept. 24-25 California Council For History Education CA State University Sacramento
Sacramento, CA
Oct. 9
10th Annual Teachers for Social Justice Conference
San Francisco, CA
Nov. 12-15 CA Lib. Assoc. and CA School Lib. Assoc. Annual Conference Sacramento Convention Center
Sacramento, CA
Other Event of Interest that AACP May Not Attend
Sept. 11
San Mateo OCA's
23nd Anniversary Asian American Achievement Awards
Crowne Plaza
Foster City, CA
Sept. 18-19
Chinatown Autumn Moon Festival Chinatown
San Fracisco, CA
Sept. 18-19
The Moon Festival of Silicon Valley Orchard Farm Shopping Center
San Jose, CA
Sept. 18 Children Moon Festival of Northern California Plaza De Cesar Chavez
San Jose, CA
Sept. 25-26 Kaiser Permanente San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival Treasure Island
San Francisco, CA
Oct. 2 Spirit of Japantown Festival
San Jose, CA
Nov. 1-30 National Novel Writing Month In Your Home
Nov. 3-6 Nat. Assoc. for Multicultural Ed. (NAME) 2010 Conference Rio All-Suite Hotel
Las Vegas, NV
Nov. 13 National Pacific Islander Educator Network (NPIEN)
9th Annual Education Conference

Artesia High School
Lakewood, CA

Editor's Notes

Hello Everyone,

My apologies for this late newsletter - I've been working on a book project and I hope to tell you about it sometime soon.

Thank you to those that sent me feedback on the last newsletter. Sorry I didn't get to post it on our website yet - hope to do it soon.

After going through our calendar of events, I just realized that there are quite a few things happening this fall. We hope you can make some of them.

I'm especially hoping that you could catch Judy or Erika someplace on their book tour. I was able to attend their event at Fort Mason and it was packed with maybe up to 300 people. It was amazing to find out how many people helped or were connected to the project - self included - and how many of you I recognized in the crowd.

Thank you very much Judy and Erika for doing our newsletter interview and congratulations to you both! May you have a grand journey on your book tour.

Emily, thank you very much for being our intern this summer and for all the help with the newsletter. We wish you much success this school year. Please keep in touch.

As always, thanks Philip, for the help with editing.

That's all for now.

Leonard Chan
Executive Editor

Give Us Your Feedback

Please feel free to send us your reviews, comments, and book suggestions. You can contact us by going to the following page and sending an email to us through the online form -

An Immigrant in an American Public School
By Emily Lin

After a long immigration process, my family arrived in the United States and life changed for us immediately. Honestly, getting used to a new culture and a new language were harder than I had expected.

I entered school in the United States two years ago. I couldn't wait to go to public school and meet new friends in another country. I felt happy when I thought about foreign friends who would speak English with me and ask me to hangout during the weekend. The reality was that I was not only disappointed but also became depressed.

I saw many Chinese students; however, no one came to talk to me. I tried to talk to them but I could not find a topic in which they were interested. I sat on the stone benches, looking at the students walking around with their friends, but I had none. I could only watch the seagulls flying.

I felt depressed because I couldn't understand the assignments and I had no one to ask. I felt helpless because no one could give me a hand and my grades dropped badly. It was so hard for me to get into groups. I became afraid to speak English and I kept quiet during class. However, I still needed to face the difficulty of getting used to this new culture and new language.

When I was in China, getting into a good college depended on a three-day exam. Teachers gave us homework assignments everyday and parents did all the house work in order to let us focus on studying. Everyday I buried myself in the homework without doing anything else. We didn't have a lot of activities at school. When I came to the United States, I felt a sense of loss. I didn't know what I should do because I needed to control my life myself instead of letting other people plan for me.

Although I learned English quickly, I got behind in studies that required a lot of reading in English. History class was the hardest class. It was a torture for me to read so many articles full of English. I stayed up until nearly three o'clock in the morning trying to figure out the meaning of the English words. I felt stressed when I faced the bad grade on my report card; however, I never gave up.

After I got out of ESL English class, I knew I had a long way to go before I could communicate effectively with other students and teachers. For me, living in the United States is full of challenges.

At school in the United States I saw many students that weren't afraid to express their opinions. In my junior year, I chose to take the honors English Class since I wanted to improve my English.

I felt so much pressure the first time I participated in the fish-bowl (a group discussion about a book). I also felt a sense of fear that I could not do this well. I saw people raise their hands high when they had something to say. During fish-bowl, I heard so many really good ideas from different students. I admired their boldness. It was so amazing that they weren't afraid to voice their opinion. It is totally different from what I did in China.

I began to join different clubs - people did many things for their clubs. I wanted to have my own club that could help the community. I joined the OCA public speaking and leadership program to develop my leadership skills. Over the summer, in my sophomore year, I enrolled in a speech class in San Mateo Community College to brush up on my communication skills. I learned how to handle a college class, but most of all, I learned the subject matter, which was helping now.

When I joined the Math Club, I felt so happy - our club was like a big family. Before the math competition, we formed a study group and studied really late everyday to improve our scores. Everyone brought food to school when we stayed until eight o'clock. I started to learn how to cook which made me excited. Before I joined the club, I never knew how to cook by myself. However, when I saw my members satisfied with my cooking skills, I was so happy.

I also tutor kids in math each week so they will succeed at school. However, I realized that my own strength was not enough. As the president of my high school Math Club, I am proud that I initiated a program that provides free tutoring for students from low-income families. I decided to have the program at the Millbrae Library because I have been a volunteer at this library for over two years. After I talked to Spencer, the Millbrae librarian, about this free tutoring program, I started to design some flyers. Spencer kept giving me advice and finally I finished it. I asked my members to deliver the flyers to different schools and libraries. I was so excited that I could use my math talents to help others and that we were doing something socially responsible for our community.

At the end of my junior year, when I was in a history seminar, we talked about whether the Vietnam War should have happened. I kept the discussion going with confidence and wisdom. I was so proud of myself - I finally could voice my opinion.

Since the day I came to the United States, I have changed a lot. I still remember how hard my hands were shaking when I was presenting my first project, but now I can do it with ease and sometimes I even make jokes while doing it. I am now more confident than ever and enjoying my senior year at my high school.


The following books are discounted for subscribers to our newsletter. The discounts on these books end September 21, 2010.

Angel Island
Immigrant Gateway to America

By Erika Lee and Judy Yung
2010, 394 pages, Hardback.

Two to three weeks for delivery.

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3614, Price $27.95 ... for newsletter subscribers $22.36

Growing Up Filipino II
More Stories for Young Adults

Collected and Edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
2010, 257 pages, Paperback.

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3615, Price $21.95 ... for newsletter subscribers $17.56

My Dog Deny

By Yoshito Wayne Osaki
Illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
2010, 33 pages, Hardback.

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3616, Price $18.00 ... for newsletter subscribers $14.40

American Chinatown
A People's History of Five Neighborhoods

By Bonnie Tsui
2009, 272 pages, Paperback.

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3617, Price $15.00 ... for newsletter subscribers $12.00

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